In the National News
Weed control is often the most difficult aspect of organic farming. Blue River Technology, in the Salinas Valley area of California, is developing a tractor-pulled, weed-killing robot for lettuce fields, dubbed the “lettuce bot.” The lettuce bot uses a camera and algorithms to detect weeds from the crop, and kills them by fertilizer injection. The company hopes to develop a version that runs at 3 miles/hour and mechanically kills the weeds. Ideally, the robot’s algorithms can be adjusted to a variety of crops, helping organic farmers save time and money in weed control.
'Zombee' Bees Discovered in the Northwest
In early 2012, entomologists in California reported on a new parasite of honey bees, Apocephalus borealis, a phorid fly that some have dubbed the zombie fly. It has long been known to be a parasite of bumble bees, and has recently shifted hosts, causing an emerging problem for honey bees. At that time, it was found in honey bee specimens collected from California and South Dakota; in September it was reported for the first time on honey bees in Oregon. Infected bees wander away from the hive at night, often toward light, fly erratically, and then die. San Francisco State entomologists are now studying how the parasite affects bee behavior by monitoring tiny, 24-hr radio trackers attached to bees in outdoor hives. The results will show whether infected bees abandon the hive at night or day, or if they are expelled by the hive. It is still unclear if this parasitic fly is linked to colony collapse disorder. A citizen science project, called ZomBee Watch, was established to help map the parasite’s spread and occurrence.
Trying to 'Weevil' Its Way In
At the Los Angeles/Long Beach port, a live elephant weevil was found in a container of oranges that came from Australia, heading for Florida. This is the first time this insect has been found in the U.S. Elephant weevils are small insects that feed on roots, stems, and fruit of grapes, blueberry, citrus, and fruit trees.
Using Trickery Against a Pest Moth
The diamondback moth is a worldwide pest of cabbage and its relatives. An entomologist from the University of Copenhagen used gene technology to deceive the moth and save the crop. He first identified the genes that regulate cabbage’s defense compounds, glucosinolates, a compound that inadvertently attracts the diamondback moth to lay eggs on the cabbage. He then transferred the defense genes into tobacco plants. In the test field, the modified tobacco plants lured moths away from the cabbage crop to lay eggs on the tobacco. Diamondback larvae cannot survive on tobacco, and quickly died of starvation in the experiment. Using this imaginative technology, a field can be interplanted with the trap crop, in this case tobacco, reducing pesticide use on the primary crop. Future work will focus on gene transfer into other crops that the larvae cannot survive on, like potato, so that a grower can maximize the production from a field.
Natural Bed Bug Treatments? The FTC Disagrees
Two companies that marketed products containing natural ingredients as curatives for bed bug invasions incurred deceptive advertising charges by the Federal Trade Commission. RMB Group, LLC and CedarCide Industries, Inc. were accused of falsely advertising treatment for bed bugs and head lice that have not been scientifically proven to be effective. “Rest Easy,” a product containing cinnamon, lemongrass, peppermint, and clove oils, was marketed to travellers, claiming to prevent infestation by creating a barrier around the sleeping area. BEST Yet!, cedar-oil-based liquid products, falsely claimed to treat and prevent bed bugs and head lice, and that the USDA endorses the product for the U.S. Army. For more information about protecting yourself against fraudulent bed bug products, and advice for treating infestations, click here.
Useful Publications and Websites
• N Price Calculator App, developed by the University of Wisconsin, compares the price of various forms of nitrogen fertilizer products in price per pound of nitrogen so that the cheapest source can be identified.
• Pest Private Eye and the Case of IPM in Schools was developed by The University of Nebraska-Lincoln for grades 4-6. It is an educational video game in which students play a detective to solve pest problems using IPM.
• IPMLite is an app developed by seven eastern universities that provides home landscape information from when and how to plant and prune, to identifying and managing major insects, mites, and diseases. IPMLite also sends alerts coinciding with pest emergence.
• Pest World for Kids, designed for grades 3-5, includes writing assignments, lesson plans and games such as Archibald’s Adventure, in which the character is an odorous house ant on the hunt for food.